In 1979, the Sikatuna Ladies Association, led by its president, Belen Buenaventura, initiated the Sunday street mass. The Ladies sought the approval of Fr. Desiderio Martin, then parish priest of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish (IHMP) and allowed them to look for priest celebrators whenever Fr. Martin was not available. Sikatuna Village was part of the IHMP before. Occasional street masses were held alternately in Maningning, Madasalin, Matipid, Maimpok, Anonas Extension, Mapagsangguni, and parking lot of the old Glorimart. On special occasions such as Christmas Eve, New Year, and the Village fiesta, an even bigger and enthusiastic crowd converged at Glorimart to be blessed during the mass.
Later on, the street masses drew a considerable number of attendees. And with the clamor from the community, the Ladies made every effort to have a regular Sunday mass. Fr. Martin was amenable to the plan, but said he would need the consent of Fr. Domingo Moraleda, the Father Provincial of the Claretian Order in the Philippines. Due to the community’s proximity to the IHMP Claretian parish, Fr. Moraleda initially disagreed. Eventually, he consented after the Ladies Association explained that the masses were to be the springboard for the future evangelization of informal settlers in the area.
Admittedly, there was a need for a permanent place within the village for Sunday mass celebrations especially during inclement weather. Upon learning there was a vacant lot along Madasalin, the Ladies immediately sought the lot owner, Enrique Montano, a resident of Cubao and a Central Bank employee. He personally knew Flordelis (Flor) Bricia, Nieves (Ebeng) Fernandez, and Pacita (Pacing) Liwanag. They had a successful negotiation with him as he allowed the building of a small chapel on his lot rent-free.
Soon after, Belen kicked off a fund-raising campaign through the movie premiere of “The Car,” at the Greenhills Theater and was able to raise less than P4,000. Dolly ______, the Treasurer of the Ladies Association, approached Hernani Magbanua for help, who was then the treasurer of the Sikatuna Villagers Association, Inc. At that time, money on hand was barely enough to purchase construction materials. Even so, in 1982, construction of a wooden chapel commenced. Hernani utilized his men, who were mostly welders with basic knowledge on carpentry, in doing the job. The chapel with GI roofing stood on raw ground. It had an altar, a sound system, and six benches that could sit from twenty to thirty mass goers. But the space was a bit cramped. Barely three months after it was built, the whole floor and altar areas were cemented. Wooden slats were placed behind the altar for protection and aesthetic purposes as no walls were built around the chapel. After over a year, the chapel was extended to accommodate six additional benches, such that sixty people can be comfortably seated inside.
For over three years, 5:00 PM Sunday masses were celebrated in the chapel. Mass attendance always exceeded the chapel’s seating capacity, with more people standing than those seated. Until one day, the lot owner informed the Ladies to dismantle or relocate the makeshift structure within a year’s notice, in view of his own project.
At this juncture, the acquisition of a permanent lot the soonest was critical. The Ladies sought the help of Dominador (Ador) de Guzman, the second President of the Sikatuna Villagers Association. Ador and Hernani took the lead, in cooperation with the Ladies, in looking for a lot and building a permanent structure. They noticed a vacant lot at the corner streets of Madasalin and Maamo and quickly consulted the lot owner, Mr. Campos of Campos Realty, and an acquaintance of Ador.
Thereafter, a meeting was set among the officers and members of the Association and Mr. Campos. Ador made an offer to buy the lot on installment or through a mortgage. However, Mr. Campos explained he had intended to build condominium units on this lot. Still, Ador persisted and appealed that Mr. Campos reconsider selling the 557-sq. meter lot since it was the only vacant lot within the village which can house a big chapel for the community. By God’s grace, Mr. Campos agreed to sell the lot for eight hundred thousand pesos (P800,000.00), to be paid in cash within ten days. However, the Villagers had only a little over one hundred thousand cash in the bank. Pressed for time, Ador consulted Hernani on ways to raise the amount, and volunteered to shoulder the remaining balance. God’s mercy was upon the community as a number of villagers gladly offered help with donations ranging from five pesos to fifty thousand pesos. Thus, in 1986, the purchase of the lot was completed with Ador shelling out the the balance amounting to about P137,000.
Upon purchase of the lot, a temporary chapel was relocated at the center of the new site and the celebration of the 5:00 PM mass continued. In addition, the Claretian Fathers approved the request for an additional Sunday mass at 8:00 AM, provided a non-Claretian priest would officiate, since all priests are occupied during the morning schedule.
Finally, the construction of the church was initiated when the Villagers’ Board of Directors created the Construction Committee in one of its meetings. Under the Villagers’ by-laws, the head of the committee should be a board member. As the only engineer on the Board, Hernani was chosen to head the committee and was given a free hand to choose the members, provided they were willing to serve without compensation.
Architects Benjamin (Benjie) San Pedro and Fe Romero submitted their design for the proposed chapel. This was the first and only building design that included the structural plan prepared by a structural engineer whom they had contracted for a fee of six thousand (P6,000), which they themselves paid. That time, Archt. Orlando (Orly) Mateo was busy building two churches as a partner with Locsin and Associates, so he was unable to submit his design.
The Board approved Benjie’s and Fe’s building plan and was thereafter submitted to Quezon City Hall. A building permit was consequently issued. Construction commenced and several concrete columns were erected. As per the design, masses would be celebrated on the second floor of the church and the ground floor would serve as parking and multi-use space for an office, a recreation hall, and an assembly hall. But months later, while construction was in progress, many villagers especially those advance in years, opposed the design citing the inconvenience and safety while going up and down the stairs. To resolve the matter, a referendum was held. Majority of the voters agreed that masses had to be celebrated on the first floor. Thus, the Board acceded to the voice of the villagers and gave the construction committee the freehand to make the necessary changes.
Another construction problem that had to be dealt with was how to preserve the columns which had been constructed before the referendum took place. Demolishing them was not a consideration as it would mean a waste of time and money. Many family residents of the village contributed fifteen thousand pesos (P15,000) for each column. The construction committee agreed to forego the city-approved plan.
The civil engineers in the committee decided to make use of the existing columns and follow the columnar pattern in the original plan. Cantilever beams at the church’s sides and front were utilized to strengthen the columns, aside from the extra floor space these created.
At the church façade, a five-meter easement at the ground floor was created. The second floor was extended through a cantilever overhang of five meters. The big overhang at the façade had to be reinforced by adding two more columns to support the cantilever beams and tie beams thereat.
The same set-up was repeated at the second floor, to share and carry the concentrated load at the overhang. This paved the way for the addition of a third floor, which was completed much later and served as as a function room for meetings, seminars, and group celebrations. Tony Guhit made the structural design and provided the necessary drawings in consonance with the progress of the construction. After the structural components (building shell) of the church was in place, Orly Mateo took the task of overseeing the architectural design, until its completion.
Church construction went on slowly in 1986. It was during this period that Dolly’s father Jose (Tatay Joe) Salvosa volunteered to supervise the workers as foreman, in Hernani’s stead. He patiently gathered nails from the ground and straightened the crooked ones so they could be used again. Meanwhile, Antonio (Tony) and Baby Belzunce, together with Renato (Nato) Canares, humbly served in cleaning up the site left by the workers after each working day. A lot of villagers contributed their time and effort to safeguard the construction materials on site. Romeo (Butch) Junia, Pedro (Pete) Seballos and Nato were among them.
Funding largely came from collections from the two Sunday masses and donations in cash and in kind from villagers. Most of the villagers donated materials like cement, gravel and sand, hollow blocks, steel windows, among others. Sponsors were sought for the ceiling and marble flooring on a per square meter basis.
Hernani also utilized his credit line with Everest Lumber, De Jesus Industrial Supplies, and Elite Hardware to ensure unhampered construction. Construction materials were ordered on credit and paid as soon as funds were available.
The Ladies Association handled most of the fund-raising campaigns, both in and outside of the village, with some donations coming in from abroad. Myrna Vera-Cruz, its 3rd president, followed by its 4th president, Luzviminda (Baby) San Pedro, continued the campaigns started by Belen Buenaventura. Baby had a flair for creating new ideas to encourage more members and parishioners to participate in the fund-raising such as Christmas caroling, birthday or wedding for a cause, where the celebrators request for donations in lieu of gifts.
Excluding the cost of materials which were donated in kind, the cost of constructing the church reached around four million pesos (P4,000,000.00). Its construction went on for five years. The cost included steel trusses, steel purlins, steel windows and the steel folding doors, which were fabricated on site to save on expense. Benjie San Pedro donated the steel windows placed on both sides of the church.
The church funds covered materials for the windows at the façade and at the back. The narra pews, which were from the parishioners’ donations, were also assembled on site. The only commissioned contractor worked on the painting of the church’s interiors and exteriors for thirty thousand (P30,000).
On the technical side, Orly, Tony, and Hernani continued to assist until the Church’s completion in 1991. Then, the Claretian Order assigned Fr. Albert Delvo to oversee its operations and to be its 8:00 AM mass celebrator. He created the Interim Pastoral Council and assigned Hernani to head the Temporalities. Federico “Pedring” Jimenez, Roberto (Bert) Guevara and Hernani served as Lay Ministers during Sunday masses, both at the church and at IHMP. Jose (Joey) Bicerra served later on.
Through the years, Claretian fathers continually guided and looked after the spiritual needs of the villagers and celebrated masses for weddings and anniversaries. As time passed, people from neighboring barangays, namely, Malaya, Botocan, Bliss I and Bliss II also flocked to the church during masses. There was a need to add more masses to accommodate more churchgoers without neglecting their parishioners in IHMP as well. Thus, some villagers considered offering the chapel to the Manila Archdiocese to accommodate the volume of mass goers coming from the adjoining areas. This way, the church would be provided a regular parish priest.
In February 1993, the late Manila Archbishop, His Eminence Jaime Cardinal Sin made a pastoral visit to the Parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Claret. On his way home, he visited the Sikatuna Villagers’ fully functioning church that the Claretian fathers proudly talked about. To his surprise, what he saw was a beautiful church, not a chapel as he expected, which made him exclaim, “I thought this was a chapel! This IS a cathedral!”
He promised to issue a decree to make the church a parish and assign a parish priest. He asked the villagers, who were present during the meeting, for some suggestions on what to name the parish. Many names were presented, but the villagers unanimously agreed on the name proposed by Alberto (Bert) San Pedro: Parish of the Lord of the Divine Mercy.
A few months after the visit of His Eminence, the Sikatuna Villagers Association Incorporated, through a Deed of Donation, turned over the land and the church building, including all the door keys, to Fr. Clemente Ignacio, the representative of the Archdiocese of Manila. The turnover and signing of the documents were done at the 3rd floor of the church. This signaled the end of the Construction Committees’ jurisdiction over the operation and/or any renovations of the church.
Meanwhile the Claretian priests continued to serve at the parish until Fr. Clem was appointed and installed as the first parish priest of PLDM.
On April 23, 1995, his Eminence Jaime L. Cardinal Sin, with his co-celebrants, Most Rev. Ramon Arguelles, Rev. Fr. Rufino P. Yabut and Rev. Fr. Mario Sanchez, concelebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and solemnly dedicated the church to be the Parish of the Lord of the Divine Mercy.
The holding of Sunday street masses was the pet project of Flordelis (Flor) Bricia and Nieves (Ebeng) Fernandez, both active members then of the Sikatuna Ladies Association. In 2003, writer Pacita A. Liwanag, shared that Ebeng Fernandez initially hosted the masses in memory of her son, Wally, whom she lost to leukemia in the late 1970s. A family tragedy for the Fernandezes turned into blessed occasions as they welcomed friends and neighbors to their home where masses were celebrated with Ebeng’s priest-friend, Rev. Fr. Gene Bacareza. Some neighbors followed suit by opening their garages, homes, and streets for priests from the nearby Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. Amidst these Eucharistic celebrations mushroomed the passion to build the village’s own church.
Construction Committee members:
Benjamin San Pedro
Geologist: Rodrigo Rigor
Mechanical/Electrical: Hernani Magbanua
Accountant/Auditor: Wilfredo Areola
Orly Mateo’s Architectural inputs